Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’s Weekly Report for March 22-28, 2021: Two Activists Arrested, Charged with “Conducting Anti-state Propaganda” Ahead of Upcoming Parliament Election
Defend the Defenders | March 28, 2021
Two months prior to the election for Vietnam’s highest legislative body National Assembly (NA) and People’s Councils at province, district, and communal levels, security forces have arrested two activists on the allegation of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code with potential imprisonment of between seven and 12 years if are convicted.
On March 22, security forces in the central province of Nghe An, the home town of late communist founder and leader Ho Chi Minh, arrested local medical doctor Nguyen Duy Huong, accusing him of producing and spreading online articles with content defaming senior leaders and distorting the regime’s policies.
Five days later, authorities in the capital city of Hanoi detained local Facebooker Le Trong Hung (Facebook page Hùng Gàn Lê) with the same allegation. Mr. Hung got arrested after applying for independent candidacy for a NA’s seat in the upcoming elections scheduled in late May. Hung is the second self-nominated candidate for the parliament being arrested in recent weeks. On March 10, the Ninh Binh province’s police arrested Mr. Tran Quoc Khanh with the same charge.
Police also carried out house searches and confiscated some items from them. The two activists will be held incommunicado for at least four months, a traditional practice applied widely in all political cases.
On March 24, the Higher People’s Court in Hanoi rejected the appeal of poet dissident and human rights defender Tran Duc Thach who was convicted of subversion and sentenced to 12 years in prison and three years of probation by the People’s Court of Nghe An province in the first-instance hearing on December 15 last year due to his participation in the unregistered group Brotherhood for Democracy whose ten members were arrested and convicted of subversion in recent years.
Two days earlier, the People’s Court of Phu Yen province suddenly canceled the first-instance hearing against local freelance journalist Tran Thi Tuyet Dieu who was arrested on August 21 last year on the allegation of “conducting anti-state propaganda” for her online posts on various issues the country is facing.
While being held incommunicado in pre-trial detention in the Temporary detention center No. 1 operated by the Hanoi Police Department, land rights activist and human rights defender Trinh Ba Phuong had been transferred to a mental hospital for psychiatric assessment after he keeps the right of silence during interrogation. Mr. Phuong, as well as his mother Can Thi Theu and younger brother Trinh Ba Tu, was arrested on June 24 last year on the allegation of “conducting anti-state propaganda” for their efforts to advocate for land petitioners in Dong Tam commune and report the bloody police raid in the commune on January 9, 2020 to foreign diplomats and the international community. Meanwhile, Mrs. Theu was allowed to meet her lawyer for the first time in Hoa Binh province’s Temporary detention center this week to prepare her defense. The lawyer is expected to meet her son Tu soon, who is also held in the same detention facility.
On March 23, Amnesty International issued a press release calling on Vietnam’s regime to stop inhumane treatment against labor activist and human rights defender Nguyen Van Duc Do who is serving his 11-year imprisonment in An Phuoc Prison camp located in the central province of Quang Nam. Mr. Do has been held in solitary confinement, supplied with unsafe food and drink, and sometimes being mentally tortured in recent ten months.
===== March 22 =====
Medical Doctor Nguyen Duy Huong Arrested, Charged with “Conducting Anti-state Propaganda” for Facebook Posting
Defend the Defenders: Authorities in Vietnam’s central province of Nghe An, the home town of late communist leader Ho Chi Minh, have arrested local medical doctor Nguyen Duy Huong on the allegation of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the country’s Criminal Code.
According to the state-controlled media, police from Nghe An province conducted the arrest on March 22. They also carried out house search and confiscated a cell phone and an Ipad.
Mr. Huong, 34, will be held incommunicado for at least four months in pre-trial detention in Nghi Kim temporary detention center operated by the Nghe An province’s Police Department. He would face imprisonment of between seven and 12 years in prison if is convicted.
Police said the medical doctor has used his Facebook account “Bảo kiếm” to post and share articles with content defaming the communist regime’s leaders and distorting its policies.
He has been the fourth Facebooker being arrested so far this year as Vietnam continues its crackdown on local dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders. In February, Quang Tri province’s police arrested state-run newspaper journalist Phan Bui Bao Thy and his partner Le Anh Dung on the allegation of “abusing democratic freedom” for using Facebook to denounce some province’s leaders of corruption in local projects.
Two weeks ago, authorities in the northern province of Ninh Binh detained local resident Tran Quoc Khanh and charged him with “conducting anti-state propaganda” for his Facebook posts in which he criticized the communist regime in various issues. It is worth noting that Mr. Khanh was arrested a few days after he announced his plan to run as an independent candidate for the country’s highest legislative body National Assembly in the upcoming election scheduled in late May.
The international community and local activists have urged Vietnam’s communist regime to amend its Criminal Codeand remove Article 117 and some others in the National Security provisions of the code which have been used by the regime to silent local peaceful critics and human rights defenders.
In recent years, dozens of activists have been convicted of “conducting anti-state propaganda” and sentenced to between five years and 15 years in prison. PhD Pham Chi Dung, president of the unsanctioned professional group Independent Journalist Association of Vietnam was given 15 years in prison and three years of probation while his deputy Nguyen Tuong Thuy and young member Le Huu Minh Tuan were sentenced to 11 years in prison and three years of probation by the People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City in the first instance-hearing in early January this year.
Last year, Hanoi-based democracy campaigner Nguyen Trung Linh was also sentenced to 12 years in prison after being convicted of the same allegation.
Trial Against Freelance Journalist Tran Thi Tuyet Dieu on Charge of “Conducting Anti-state Propaganda” Unexpectedly Suspended for Unknown Reason
Defend the Defenders: The People’s Court of Phu Yen province has suddenly postponed the first-instance hearing scheduled on March 22 to try local freelance journalist Tran Thi Tuyet Dieu on charge of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code. The court have yet set a new date for the trial, according to her lawyer Nguyen Kha Thanh.
Attorney Thanh said when he arrived in the court’s headquarters in Tuy Hoa city where the trial was said to be carried out, he was informed that the hearing was canceled without explanation from the court’s authorities. It is unclear when the trial would be conducted.
Ms. Dieu, a former journalist of the Phu Yen newspaper- the official outlet of the province’s authorities, was arrested on August 21 last year. She has been held incommunicado in three months and was allowed to meet her attorney for defense preparation from November last year. The 33-year-old journalist faces imprisonment of between five and 12 years in prison if she is convicted, according to the current Vietnamese law.
Ms. Dieu graduated journalism from the University of Social Sciences and Humanities (Vietnam National University Ho Chi Minh City). Later, she worked for Phu Yen newspaper, the official voice of the province’s Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV)’s Committee. However, she left the newspaper and focused on criticizing the communist regime’s socio-economic issues such as systemic corruption, widespread environmental pollution, human rights violations, and weak response to China’s violations of the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea).
Phu Yen province’s police have accused her of using Facebook accounts “Tuyết Diệu Babel” and “Trần Thị Tuyết Diệu Journalist” as well as Youtube channel named Tuyết Diệu Trần to disseminate hundreds of articles and videoclips to defame communist leaders, including late President Ho Chi Minh, and distort the party’s policies.
In recent years, she has been harassed many times by the police forces. Once she was kidnapped by police in the central province of Nghe An who tortured her.
She is among dozens of independent journalists and Facebookers being arrested and charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” last year, one of many controversial allegations in the National Security provisions of the Criminal Code. The United Nation Office of High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) and many democratic governments as well as international rights groups have called Vietnam’s communist regime to remove Article 117 from the code because it is used to silence government’s critics.
In early January this year, Vietnam convicted three members of the Independent Journalist Association of Vietnam (IJAVN) on allegation of “conducting anti-state propaganda” and sentenced them to a total 37 years in prison and nine years of probation. Its President Dr. Pham Chi Dung was given 15 years in prison and three years of probation while Vice President Nguyen Tuong Thuy and young member Le Huu Minh Tuan were sentenced to 11 years in prison and three years of probation each.
Last year, pro-democracy activist Nguyen Nang Tinh was sentenced to 11 years in prison and five years of probation while human rights defender Nguyen Trung Linh was given 12 years in prison for the same allegation.
As many as 77 activists were convicted and still being imprisoned while 14 others are held in pre-trial detention for “conducting anti-state propaganda,” according to Defend the Defenders’ latest statistics. Among them are prominent human rights defender and political blogger Pham Doan Trang and environmentalist Dinh Thi Thu Thuy.
Medical doctor Nguyen Duy Huong from the central province of Nghe An is the latest Facebooker being arrested of the charge. He was detained on March 22 and sent to Nghi Kim temporary detention facility under the management of the province’s Police Department where he will be kept incommunicado for at least four months during the investigation period, the commone practice Vietnam’s security forces apply in political cases. Police also conducted search of his house and confiscated a cell phone and an Ipad.
Two weeks earlier, authorities in the northern province of Ninh Binh arrested Facebooker Tran Quoc Khanh just a few days after he declared to run as an independent candidate for the country’s highest legislative body National Assembly in the upcoming election scheduled in late May.
Both Khanh and Huong were reportedly to have posted articles on their Facebook accounts with the content distorting the communist regime’s policies and defaming the regime’s leadership.
Hanoi Police Send Human Rights Defender Trinh Ba Phuong to Hospital for Psychiatric Assessment After He Remains Silent during Interrogation
Defend the Defenders: Police in Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi have sent local land rights activist and human rights advocate Trinh Ba Phuong to a hospital for psychiatic assessment after holding him incommunicado since his arrest in June last year.
After finding out that he had been removed from the Temporary detention center No. 1 under the management of the city’s Police Department, his family questioned the city’s police about his situation and the police investigation replied that he was sent to the National Psychiatric Hospital No. 1 in Thuong Tin district on March 1 for “evaluation” after refusing to cooperate with investigators.
Police investigator named Le The Bac told his wife Do Thi Thu that her husband had been “uncooperative” with police, refusing to look at his interrogators or answer their questions. He also informed her that because of his behavior, prosecutors asked that an assessment of Phuong’s health would be carried out for around four to six weeks.
Thu said her husband was healthy before being arrested and his family has no record of mental health problems. He has declared not to speak during police interrogation unless there is a presence of his lawyer.
Mr. Phuong, 36, is the oldest son of the couple of land rights activists Can Thi Theu and Trinh Ba Khiem, who were jailed for objecting the illegal grabbing of land of Duong Noi commune’s farmers by the Hanoi authorities. In addition, the family has also provided assistance for land petitioners in Dong Tam commune, My Duc district. Before and after the bloody raid of thousands of riot policemen to Dong Tam commune on January 9 last year, Mrs. Theu and her two sons Phuong and Trinh Ba Tu have advocated for Dong Tam land petitioners’ cause and reported the issue to foreign diplomats in Hanoi, including representatives of the US Embassy in Vietnam.
On June 24 last year, police arrested Mrs. Theu and her two sons as well as land rights activist Nguyen Thi Tam also from Duong Noi, accusing them of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code with imprisonment of between seven and 12 years in prison if are convicted. They have been kept incommunicado since their arrest.
While the investigation against Mrs. Theu and her son Tu was completed and their case has been sent to Hoa Binh province’s Procuracy and Court for prosecution, Hanoi’s police have extended investigation against Mr. Phuong and Mrs. Tam.
Four activists in Duong Noi are among more than 60 human rights defenders and land petitioners being arrested in 2020 amid ongoing crackdown on the local activists. Many of them have been convicted of subversion and “conducting anti-state propaganda” with imprisonment of between six and 15 years in prison.
Vietnam is holding around 260 prisoners of conscience, according to Defend the Defenders’ latest statistics. Hanoi always denies holding prisoners of conscience but only law violators. In its response to the UN’s human rights agencies regarding the arrests of four Duong Noi human rights defenders and prominent political blogger Pham Doan Trang, Vietnam’s communist regime said their arrests were not due to their human rights activities but anti-state acts.
Vietnam’s authorities often send local activists to mental facilities. Political blogger Le Anh Hung has been kept in the National Psychiatric Hospital No. 1 for more than one year after holding him incommunicado during the pre-trial detention on the allegation of “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code. Prisoners of conscience Pham Chi Thanh (political blogger Pham Thanh) was also sent to the facility for mental assessment for some time before being taking back to the Temporary detention center No.1 while democracy activist Nguyen Trung Linh reportedly spent several months there before being convicted of “conducting anti-state propanda” and sentenced to 12 years in prison in July last year.
===== March 24 =====
Vietnam Court Upholds Lengthy Sentence of Poet Dissident Tran Duc Thach, Sending Him Back to Prison
Defend the Defenders: On Wednesday, the Higher People’s Court in Hanoi rejected the appeal of democracy campaigner and poet dissident Tran Duc Thach, upheld the 12-year imprisonment followed by three years of probation on charge of subversion under Article 109 of the country’s Criminal Code.
The appeal hearing lasted less than two hours in the morning of March 24, said Hanoi-based defense lawyer Ha Huy Son. More than three months earlier, Mr. Thach, 69, was convicted by
the lower court People’s Court of Nghe An province which gave him one of severe sentences imposed on political dissidents in the Southeast Asian nation.
Like in the first-instance hearing, lawyer Son argued that the indictment against Mr. Thach was baseless since the regime’s punishment was aimed to his membership to the unsanctioned group Brotherhood for Democracy (BFD). According to the indictment, the accusation against Mr. Thach was made based on his activities in the BFD while the group’s key figures were arrested in 2015-2017 and sentenced to lengthy imprisonment of between seven and 15 years in prison.
The court also ignored the facts that Mr. Thach’s father was an official of the regime while he himself was an military soldier participating in the Vietnam War in the communist side.
This is the second time the communist government sent Mr. Thach to prison. In 2009, he was arrested together with several political dissidents on charge of “conducting anti-state propaganda” for demanding political pluralism and human rights. He was then sentenced to three years of prison and three years of probation.
In 2014-2017, he took part in a campaign for the establishment of the BFD which was led by prominent lawyer and human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, who was arrested in late 2015 on charge of subversion. Mr. Dai was freed in 2018 but forced to live in exile in Germany upon his release.
Thach is among more than 30 political activists being arrested last year as the communist regime intensified its crackdown on local dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders ahead of the 13th National Congress of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam. The congress ended on February 1 this year, with many conservative figures such as General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, incumbent Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, and Minister of Public Security To Lam being re-elected to the new leadership for the next 5-year term. It seems that the political persecution continues with new arrests of political dissidents and Facebookers on controversial articles of the National Security provisions in the Criminal Code. Since the beginning of this year, at least four Facebookers have been detained and face lengthy imprisonments.
Vietnam is holding around 260 prisoners of conscience, according to Defend the Defenders’ statistics. Hanoi always denies imprisoning prisoners of conscience but only law violators.
===== March 27 =====
Seeking for Candidacy in Upcoming Vietnam’s Parliament Election, Social Activist Le Trong Hung Got Arrested, Charged with “Conducting Anti-state Propaganda”
Defend the Defenders: Authorities in Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi arrested local social activist Le Trong Hung, accusing him of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the country’s Criminal Code for his online activities which aim to promote civil rights enshrined in the country’s Constitution 2013.
According to his wife Do Le Na, security officers kidnapped him near his private house in Hanoi when he returned home after a short city’s tour with his two sons. Police took him away and some other police officers broke into his house with his key. They informed her about her husband’s arrest and searched the house and took away some items, his wife refused to sign in the house searching report made by police because she is blind. Police have not handed over the arrest warrant nor the house search report to her.
The wife said the local authorities sent some plainclothes policemen to station near their private residence on Saturday’s early morning but her family did not suspect anything since he has been de facto under house arrest in a number of occasions in recent years.
Hung, 42, is a former high school teacher with two sons. In recent years, he participated in CHTV, an independent media program aiming to promote civil rights in Vietnam’s Constitution. He and others in the group have also been distributing the Constitution’s hard copies to people nationwide along talking about social injustice and other issues of the nation.
Recently, he has submitted documentation for independent candidacy for a seat in the country’s highest legislative body National Assembly in the general election scheduled in late May. He has criticized works of many incumbent legislators as well as senior communist leaders on his Facebook page Hùng Gàn Lê.
He is the second activist being arrested after announcing their plans to run for the country’s parliament as an independent candidate in the upcoming election. On March 10, authorities in the northern province of Ninh Binh detained Mr. Tran Quoc Khanh of the same charge. Vietnam’s communist regime strictly controls the parliament which has 500 seats but most of them are members of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam. The regime allows dozens of independent candidates but their candidacy is also carefully screened by the party-controlled Vietnam Fatherland Front (VFF). In the previous election in 2016, all activists seeking to run for the parliament were eliminated by the VFF in early rounds.
Vietnam continues its intensified crackdown on the local political dissidents, social activists, and human rights defenders after the 13th National Congress of the ruling party which ended on February 1 with many conservative figures being re-elected to its leadership. The party has determined its officials to key positions of the state apparatus in all levels and they have been promoted to these posts before the elections occur.
Since the beginning of this year, five Facebookers have been arrested, three of them were charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” and the remaining two were alleged with “abusing democratic freedom.”
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